The Tent Commandments – A Festival Guide

I have been attending anywhere from 3-11 festivals a summer, since the age of 14. I have learned a lot from attending these events, and decided to write a Festival Guide last summer. As the last summer marked my 10th year of attending festivals, and festival life is a religious practice for some, I have themed my advice on the 10 Commandments.  These are only my words of wisdom. I encourage you to create your own guidelines, tricks, tips and surprises that you bust out at each festival. With proper preparation, friendly communication, and an open mind, your experience can evolve and improve every time.—- I look forward to seeing you all on the dancefloors this summer! (July 19th -2013)

I. Thou Shalt Not Honour City Habits

The_Ten_Commandments2My favourite thing about any festival.. is the radical sense of community that is created. Leave your awkwardness, your gaze avoiding stare, your inability to say hello to your neighbour in the city. Every single person at this event, is there for a lot of the same reasons that you are. The entire campground, is your neighbourhood. Blood, sweat and tears stained the ground for you to be able to celebrate on gorgeous property for 3-5 days. Use this as an opportunity to step outside your boxes and really participate in something beautiful that could never be replicated in any city. Hint: Ditch your cellphone in a safe place! Who do you need to text that isn’t at the festival.. Really.

Remember that festivals are a co-creation. Do not count on having all of your amenities provided for you. It’s a great challenge for city-locked humans to practice living outside of their comfort zones. Take care to provide your own water, food, shelter and other necessities. Try your best to detach from whatever stresses you out in the other world.. and dig in deep for the weekend. Utilize all the movements your encouraged not to use on city sidewalks. Walk slowly if you’d like. Run up and down the beach perhaps, create a zebra flash mob maybe. Take your time, breathe and embrace your creative side. Talk to strangers, sleep in, and dance for hours.

II. Thou Shalt Not Worship a False Itinerary

For the first time festival go-ers.. this is not a problem. They arrive on site with a general plan of action and a list of specific sets they would like to catch but this is all quickly thrown out the window. Most new festival attendees are often swept up in the madness, going buck wild and flailing around all weekend like a new-born unicorn on Prozak.

Over the years, I have graduated from flailing unicorn to schedule stickler. Although the ferris wheels, mud fights, art galleries, climbing gyms, free tequila bars, and campfires are fun and amazing.. I do attend music festivals for the MuSic, after all. All of this combined with working or performing at each individual festival.. I find it essential to have a schedule around and an overall strategy to ensure I catch some of my favourite acts.

This is highly recommended! Please get a good sense of the stages, the lay of the land, and have a few schedules on you and at your campsite at all times. You will be the town hero when someone really wants to know when Beats Antique is playing. If you combine this schedule with a wristwatch… you will really see minds explode.

However, above all.. do NOT worship your itinerary like it’s a omniscient deity. Understand that festival magic is constantly at work.. and things HARDLY ever go as planned. I found the best thing to do is simply breath, relax, and realize that almost every single moment at a festival can be just as fun, even if it’s not spent exactly where you wanted to be. Top headliners will come and go… but festivals don’t last forever. If you spend your whole weekend stressing out about your original plan, suffering from FOMO (the Fear of Missing Out).. you really will miss out. So just chill out, and enjoy every minute of it.

III. Thou Shalt Not Speak The Lady’s Name in Vain

Please prepare for the weather! Some people conveniently forget that it was THEIR choice to party outside for an entire weekend. Invest in a good rain jacket, rain boots, tarps, umbrellas (for rain or shine), and maybe something to create hot water. A Thermos full of coffee with Bailey’s or a heavy dose of Yerba Mate goes a long way on a rainy day! For hot weather, bring lots of fruit, refreshing drinks and my personal secret… bandeezys, to wipe the sweat off while dancing. Do not curse the skies, grumble, or generally be a baby. You left your house to brave the elements.. so be freaking BRAVE already, and stop moaning about the weather.

This is super important. We are all adults.. we should all be able to prepare for the weather by now. So please do Mother Nature a favour, and pay her respect when you are partying in her house. What kind of guest insults the host?

IV. Honour Monday as Sabbath

Everyone has so much fun on Sunday! Gospel morning sets, bluegrass jams, Fractal Forest funktions, rum soaked watermelons, tea parties? Everyone is on their Sunday best.

Why oh why, must we turn off all this amazing energy, all of this community and all of this fun on Monday? It’s like someone pulls this giant Asshole switch from Off to On, as soon as the sun rises Monday morning. Some partiers are so darn quick to destroy everything that was built up over the weekend. I challenge you all to get out of this nasty habit and treat Monday like every other day at a festival.

Wouldn’t you say that waking up in a tent, surrounded by equally awesome people, music stages, art displays, mandalas and hundreds of tents.. is a pretty amazing way to spend a Monday morning? Think of everyone else across the world.. who didn’t have the same wonderful opportunity as you. Shouldn’t you be HAPPY to be alive? EXCITED that there’s a line up of people leaving? ACCEPTANT of the fact that everyone is a little tired? If you feel like crap.. it is no one’s fault but your own. REMEMBER this.. and cheer the flip up on Monday. Please THANK the volunteers on your way out, SMILE at your neighbour and remember PATIENCE.

Once you’ve accomplished that challenge.. the biggest challenge of all.. for any festival go-er, is to bring that radical sense of community home with you. Share it on the bus, on the streets, and in your home. Realize that the festival changed you in some little way.. and try to share it with the world.

V. Honour Thy Mothers And Fathers

A lot of work goes into these events. Generally hundreds of hands, dozens of minds, and a few thousand dollars get together to create this awesome place. If you have a great time, personally message some of the coordinators after the event. If your mind is blown by a particular lighting concept, let the lighting guy know. (Only when there’s tact time to do it.) Amazing memories of the land? Thank the landowners for providing this space. Really hold respect in your mind for the amount of work that went into the event. If you see a Coordinator or Organizer in the crowd, take the time to tell them how awesome everything is. (Again.. a sense of tact is required, if you’re too drunk to stand, or they look extremely busy.. this is most likely not the best time.)

VI. Thou Shalt Not Murder

Enough said.

VII. Thou SHOULD Commit Adultery

Do not get into a closed relationship with any particular festival! There is a whole world out there for you to explore! May I suggest an open relationship with the one you love? Visit her every year if you love her.. but be honest in your need for exploration. By getting to know other festivals, your love for your favourite festival will deepen.

I find too often, people associate the word “festival” with one particular event.. which creates a narrow view of the festival world. For example, many people I know have only been to Shambhala Music Festival  or Burning Man. While both of these are life-changing and eye-opening events, as larger festivals they don’t have the newborn charm you can find at smaller events. Explore other festivals in your region or afar. Folk music festivals may soooooound boring.. but they surprise everyone with their take on ‘folk music’. Always liked bellydancing? See if there’s a convention dedicated to that. Check out Vancouver Folk Music Festival, Bass Coast, Lightning in a Bottle, Victoria Ska Festival,  and so many more!

Every time you fest’, you will get that much better at fest’ing and your favourite festival will appreciate your love even more. I promise.

VIII. Thou Shall Not Steal

Thankfully, most people have the basic concept down, and I can honestly say I have never had one single thing stolen from my campsite, in all these years, (except a gargoyle mask last year, but I think he just felt it was time to leave.)
The one thing I would warn against.. is appropriating something that seems as if it was lost. Example: You find the most amazing jacket, with a fur hood and pockets lined with gold.. but it’s on the ground, covered in muck, mud and beer cans. Seems like it’s garbage right? Seems like it’s one of those awesome “groundscores” that you’ve heard so much about?  Think twice! A million wonderful years can pass for a person between the time they put that there.. and a whole universe could have been exploding in their head when they deemed it a safe place. They will most likely return. Leave it be! Or hang it in visible place extremely close to the first place you found it. You will make someone’s day.

IX. Thou Shall Share Abundance With Thy Neighbours

I cannot say this enough: Festivals = Community. One of the best things to do is bring something to share with your fellow campmates and new friends. Sparklers, chocolates, grapes, berries, cigarettes, candy, fresh socks even! You’ll be amazed at what happens when you offer a gift. Even if what you think is not worth giving, such as extra food that you didn’t eat over the weekend.. try it out! So many people bring not enough, just as often as you come over prepared.

X. Thou Shall Be CrEaTive!

Festivals are a chance to get silly, weird, funny and theatrical. All of those costumes that were too strange even for Halloween? Break them out! All those times you wanted to be a clown for a day? Bust a mime! Throw out your social norms, and accept that you may see a man in a tutu, or a woman with a handlebar mustache. Along with your outfits, your campsite is another place that you can get creative. It will be your homestead for the entire weekend. Bring tapestries, gnomes, paint sets, lawnchairs, houseplants.. ANYthing that you think would be fun to have, bring it along! If you don’t have space in your vehicle.. or you don’t HAVE a vehicle (like me) think small happy thoughts along the lines of bells, windchimes, ribbons, and colourful rope. Small ropes make great clotheslines, forest pathways, and help protect your space.


(Introduction: Spring 2012) I have wanted to write a festival guide for sometime now. Any one who knows me, knows that I am admittedly a festival addict. I first started attending music festivals when I was 14 years old. Stage 13 in Alberta was the first shindig.. and I was hooked after that. Until I was 18, I attended strictly live music festivals, from North Country Fair to the Edmonton Folk Festival. The summer after high school I first attended Shambhala. At this point I had a few festivals underneath my belt.. but Shambhala is a whole ‘nother thing.

Last year, Crystal Precious from Sweet Soul Burlesque, an outrageous diva, divine MC, and generally sassy feline, published her updated version of  “The Crystal Precious Winnipegger’s (or First Timer’s) Guide to Festival Raving”. This guide makes me laugh out loud, and has so many amazing tips for festival ‘raving’. A lot of the article really hits home for me.. because it’s written from a folk music festy perspective: a survival guide for a prairie girl experiencing Shambhala for her first time. The advice is honest, brutal and electronic music festival specific. I highly recommend you read her guide in addition to mine.


One thought on “The Tent Commandments – A Festival Guide

  1. Hey Ruhumah this is one of my FAVOURITE writings of yours of all time –I’m going to share it with all my festival going friends –way too go Darling–I love the twist on the “mandments” !!

    mom (:

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